Here in Austin for SXSW for my third time at the conference, one thing has already been achieved which I never attempted before - a completely Apple free experience. After some thought, I opted to join this year's conference while leaving my MacBook Air at home, in its place taking the ChromeOS powered CR-48 notebook from Google's pilot program instead - not due to some ill will toward Cupertino, but as the device helps solve some of the major issues that plague industry events of this type - network access and power. Seeing my fellow Apple addicts clustered around power outlets with white cords draped to and fro today has already helped validate that decision. Meanwhile, Google has quietly been upgrading the ChromeOS experience, so we early beta testers can feel more confident using what's not intended to be the final user experience.
As noted in my initial feedback on the Cr-48 at the end of the year, the device sports an incredible battery life, approaching that of the exceptional span seen in tablets from Apple's iPad to Android tablets including the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Instead of the less than two hours of uptime I've come to expect from my MacBook Air during typical use, the CR-48 easily bests six hours of steady work, and probably can do eight if I'm not making it sweat.
Meanwhile, as regular event goers know, between 3G network access and WiFi, it's not uncommon for one or both to be down at a megaconference like SXSW, even with great planning and best intentions. The CR-48 gives me something of an escape hatch - coming with 100 MB of free 3G network traffic from Verizon, which I tapped into a couple times with WiFi going wonky. This isn't an option on the MacBook Air, of course, barring the laptop's tapping into my Android through a WiFi hotspot.
Planning ahead, I knew it made sense to overweight the convenience of power and WiFi with the CR-48. Since the December review, ChromeOS has been regularly updated over the air, including fixes to the much-maligned trackpad, and new in the last day or so, the addition of true windowing, going beyond a series of tabs in the Chrome browser to separate windows that act as separate screens, much like Mac OS X's Spaces functionality. Now, I just have to hit Control-N to spawn a new browser window, and click the new window icon in the top right of the screen to switch between panes. Considering the overwhelming majority of my own activity with my laptop is Web-based, with increasingly less being done through desktop software, my cloud centric life is very comfortable on the CR-48.
Barring an overwhelming tractor beam pull from the makeshift Apple store featuring new iPad 2s, I expect to leave Austin on Monday with the same number of devices I came here with - three. Between the CR-48, my Samsung Galaxy Tab and my Android-based Samsung Epic, I can do everything I need to, including schedule my SXSW itinerary with the show's dedicated app. My weapon of choice doesn't have any branding on it - it's a black monolith that simply executes. I don't expect to see a lot of other CR-48s here at the show, but maybe by 2012, there will be a greater ChromeOS contingent. If they keep the battery and wireless strengths a focus, I can't see why not.